The Philippines was named for the king of Spain, Felipe II, who lived from May 1527 – September 1598. His empire was described as “the empire on which the sun never sets” and included many territories in every continent known then to Europeans, and for a time, he was even the King of England and Ireland, when he was married to Queen Mary I.
Many of the provinces and cities in the Philippines bear Spanish names, such as Nueva Ecija, Nueva Viscaya, and Trinidad, as well as the names of the Catholic saints like San Isidro, San Pedro, San Rafael and Santa Rosa – just to name a few. Certain cities and provinces were also named after Spanish towns and cities like Madrid, Toledo, Valencia and Pamplona.
The Philippines did not just inherit the names of places. They also inherited their Spanish surnames – which had nothing to do with familial relations. So when someone tells you today that they are descended from Spanish ancestors because they have a Spanish surname, or that, “hey! we have the same last name, we’re related,” they just might be…well, wrong.
The thing is, the Spaniards never fully intermarried with the natives in the Philippines as they did in Mexico, Venezuela, and their other former colonies. And according to verifiable archival documents, more than 90% of each town’s population were described as indio (or native Filipino) in most church records. During the Spanish period one could be described as a peninsulares or a Europeo Espanol, an insulares or a Filipino Espanol, sangley, a mestizo (usually mestizo Espanol or mestizo sangley), infieles, or the most common of all: an indio.
You see, in 1849, the Spanish Governor General Narciso Claveria produced the Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos (“Alphabetical Catalogue of Surnames”) which listed, Spanish, Filipino and Hispanized Chinese words, names and numbers. This was designed to mainstream the collection of taxes and to stop the pre-colonial practice of Filipinos to take on whatever surname they wanted. There were just too many De Los Santos (“of the saints”), Del Rosarios (“of the rosary”), Bautists (“baptized”), de Jesus (“of Jesus”) and De la Cruz (“of the cross”) running about for them to be able to differentiate taxes between one family and another. So once it was enacted, people went by three names: their given name – mother’s surname – father’s surname. And without an ounce of Spanish blood in their veins, they immediately, thanks to the catálogo, became “Spanish.”
“During my visit to the majority of the provinces of these islands, I observed that the natives in general lack individual surnames, which distinguished them by families. They arbitrarily adopt the names of saints and this practice has resulted in the existence of thousands of individuals having the same surname. Likewise, I saw the resultant confusion with regard to the administration of justice, government, finance, and public order, and the far-reaching moral, civil and religious consequences to which this might lead, because the family names are not transmitted from the parents to their children, so that it is sometimes impossible to prove the degrees of consanguinity for purpose of marriage, rendering useless the parochial books which in Catholic countries are used for all kinds of transactions.
“For this purpose, a catalogue of family names has been compiled, including the indigenous names collected by the Reverend Fathers Provincial of the religious orders, and the Spanish surnames they have been able to acquire, along with those furnished by the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, geography, arts, etc. In view of the extreme usefulness and practicality of this measure, the time has come to issue a directive for the formation of a civil register, which may not only fulfill and ensure the said objectives, but may also serve as the basis for the statistics of the country, guarantee the collection of taxes, the regular performance of personal services, and the receipt of payment for exemptions. It likewise provides exact information of the movement of the population; thus avoiding unauthorized migrations, hiding taxpayers, and other abuses.
There were however, exceptions to this decree. According to Claveria:
“[f]amilies who can prove that they have kept for four generations their surname, even though it may be the name of a saint, but not those like de la Cruz, de los Santos, and some others which are so numerous that they would continue producing confusion, may pass them on to their descendants; the Reverend Fathers and the heads of provinces are advised to use their judgement in the implementation of this article.”
The only major exception to this catalog, of course, were the inclusion of surnames of Spanish nobility and government administrators.
One great impact of Claveria’s decree, while beneficial for the government in the collection of taxes, was the loss of family genealogy as families abandoned their original surnames prior to 1849 and adopted the Spanish surname given to them by the Spaniards.